In September 2019 and October 2020 between two covid related lockdowns in France, Matthieu Bonnécuelle managed to bring two events to reality in the Rodez area, in beautiful Aveyron, south of France. First, Mouvement n°8, a live performance with the musical collaboration of Joachim Sontag (a great rider too!), took place during the Siècle Soulages event at the Soulages Museum in Rodez. For those not familiar with Pierre Soulages’ art, the French man has produced stunning work for several decades, especially his « Outre Noir » (beyond black) paintings which, past all expectations, is all about light. Second, Medium 20, a mostly photographic exhibit in collaboration with Hungarian well-known flatland filmer Sevisual, took place close to Rodez, in Onet-le-Château.
It’s an amazing thing to see such projects come to reality, with the power to introduce and connect the essence of the flatland experience to its social context and make a culture more inclusive of the various forms of expression that currently exist whatsoever. Also amazing to see how the city of Rodez offered an incredible museum to one of its children (Pierre Soulages, born and raised in Rodez) and no less amazing that Matthieu grew up spending a million hours riding in an old indoor municipal sports hall a stone’s throw from the Onet-le-Château cultural centre where he was given the chance to set up his first exhibit.
BMX flatland is whatever you do with it. We wanted to know a bit more about these two very unique events so we asked a few questions to Matthieu and Tom (Sevisual).
Matthieu, how did this exhibit idea come about? It took place a year after your performance at the Soulages Museum in Rodez, were the two projects actually planned to take place that way? What inspired you to go into a project like Medium 20, knowing it was pretty much unprecedented??
The idea came to me years ago, when I was thinking about how BMX riding could really be brought into an art form, within an “art sphere”. With hindsight, the exhibition itself feels like a form of diffusion more than a form of creation. I mean, the photographic and graphic material was creation, but the core material (the crafting of movement/tricks) was already there, mostly created already.
The realisation of this idea implied a photographer to collaborate with, a venue to present the exhibition, printings, fundings demands… and as I was mostly in a D.I.Y approach at that time, I kept the project in my notebook, finishing my studies then attending LIDO course (professional circus school in Toulouse).
Visiting Japan in April 2019, I got very inspired by how people would really go doing their thing there, and coming back to France I was more confident about presenting what I do, without necessarily making big compromises to make it fit into known patterns : just aimed to show my work of movement crafting with the BMX, through simple creations (live and plastic), with the tools of diffusion I had.
The performance happened from a project call I had the luck to see, and for the exhibition, I had the support of Onet-le-Château, my hometown, where we organised many events already; these are not huge tools but well enough to start developing all of this and showing this vision which was quite intimate so far.
The exhibition was planned before the Siècle Soulages performance, so Sevisual coming to document the performance was a great practical occasion to start the photo-sequences project, shooting movements, creating the basis.
Tom, I’m guessing you were approached by Matthieu to realise this project. Did you guys click from the start on what would be produced? What did you like about the project?
Yes, Matthieu told me about two of his projects last year which he wanted to do, one in Rodez and the other one in his hometown Onet-le-Château. He convinced me pretty quick with his vision and ideas, both projects sounded exciting, one with a modern BMX choreography mixed with live bass and electronic music… and the Medium20 project with the sequences for an exhibition, such a simple yet cool idea about a human
on a bike and how the body moves around the BMX.
I like that Matthieu thinks outside the box, just like in his riding, he brings something unique, in this case mixing art with freestyle.
It’s always exciting to film and edit something different other than the usual flatland videos but still bike related and I can count on him on this one…and yes, we clicked pretty quick, but I believe we had already clicked years before.
Matthieu, with your friend Joachim Sontag, you presented a live performance for the 100 years Birthday celebration of French Rodez-born artist Pierre Soulages at the Soulages Museum. You understand BMX as a possible medium, also a Rodez/Aveyron native yourself, do actually you feel some kind of connection with Soulages’ work and if yes how does that inspire you when it comes to riding a bicycle (or through a representation of riding like Medium20), something which seems very different at first sight?
Yes, I felt a kind of connection with Pierre Soulages, not an complete one, but what he taught me through his painting (and his words about it) was that the material itself can be legitimate expression, and that artistic expression is not necessarily linked to symbolism, meanings, or far-out intellectual concepts.
Regarding cultural education, it was also something to grasp on and rely in a little city like Rodez.
He somehow opened a down-to-earth abstract door for me, which was very relieving since most of BMX Flatland riding is pretty abstract in itself in my opinion. I think that his approach added to the circus course I took for 2 years allowed me to feel the movement more, giving up seeking symbols, meanings and obvious lyricism in it, and letting the movement itself being a legitimate expression. It probably inspired me to do simpler things and be confident about their force.
Tom, tell us about your experience finding yourself immersed in Rodez, in the Soulages celebration context filming Matthieu’s riding? The museum’s architecture itself is something, there’s a special atmosphere up there, and what you had to film was not a typical BMX show.
I really love South of France, beautiful area and Rodez is also a very nice little city.
The Soulages museum is definitely a unique place with good vibe, the location and the building itself is impressive with the rusty boxes concept, but Soulages beyond black (note : in french « Outre Noir ») paintings were amazing. He is the
“the painter of black” for sure, no wonder Matthieu felt something about Soulages’ expression, got inspiration then transfigured everything into movement, BMX and music. They performed in front of the museum, it was a perfect background for « Mouvement N°8 » and the audience was great too. Things went smooth and easy after I watched rehearsal a day before and we discussed some details. Definitely a superb experience. Also, it is good to see that local governments support artists and projects like this.
Matthieu, how was the performance received/perceived in the “cultural” world? Did it actually lead to that opportunity to realise MEDIUM soon after?
So far, the feedback I had about Mouvement N°8 is great, we performed it another time this year, and programmers and audience always seem stoked about it, and kids love it even if the proposition is quite specific!
I cannot say much about how the “cultural world” because we haven’t presented it enough times yet to have an idea of that I think.
It did not “open doors” to the realisation of Medium20. Medium20 was planned before already and Sevisual coming to film Mouvement N°8 was a practical opportunity to start shooting for Medium20 right after.
In turn, how was MEDIUM20 received? Was it pretty low-key or did it attract people?
MEDIUM20 was well received by both the “mainstream” and “cultural” worlds and also by the “BMX world”.
The venue itself was pretty low-key because it happened in a small city between two lockdowns… but by showing it a bit online, I noticed a part of the “BMX world” was super enthusiastic about it. Somehow, it is inter-relational, it invites the “BMX world” into an artistic vision, and the “art world” into a BMX vision. Rodolphe Mabille told me there was something about the form itself being very classic (black and white photo-sequences) and the sport being post modern, I haven’t seen it like this but this a legitimate vision of it.
Will MEDIUM20 be proposed to other cities or was it a one-off?
A bit too soon to tell, but yes the exhibition is meant to travel and be shown in different places.
The thing is, it is real work to produce and diffuse whatever artistic production, it takes an energy very different from creating. I am not really a promoter, most of the time I prefer to make music, drawing or go riding instead of sending emails to have a gig!
Most of it also seems to be closed networks, but I like to step into it sometimes, it worked for the Siècle Soulages!
So yes, it will probably happen on my little scale, we’ll see how it goes.